I managed to steal some time away this past weekend, something I haven’t done in several years. The premise was visiting a dear friend who was returning to the west coast.
Ten hours alone in the car with some carefully chosen MP3s and a wholly self-involved mission: to re-evaluate my priorities.
I was leaving for Pennsylvania for one night; I packed enough clothes for a week. More than just the needless female urge to pack four outfits per day “just in case,” I was stowing tokens of comfort in a duffle bag nearly bursting. I vowed to leave the laptop behind.
On Thursday morning, I thought I was having a panic attack. I paced and muttered; I obnoxiously over-pet the dog; I showered too soon. I settled at my desk for an hour and a half of piddly tidying—stray emails, quick to-dos, sorting—and tried not to watch the clock.
I rarely leave the dim cloister of my office, and barring the persistence of my immediate family and a few close friends, I seldom socialize. I run errands once every two weeks, I socialize on the phone a couple times a week, but mostly, I work.
If my iMac’s not casting its alien glow over the worn veneer of my desk, I get anxious. My mouth is crooked from consternation and my eyes suffer a permanent squint. Radiating lower back pain might be the one thing that raises me from my chair at night. My gardens are overrun with weeds, whatever I haven’t hastily yanked up while on a conference call at 11 o’clock in the morning. The occasional cigarette, which is now snagged or snuck, and the dog force me outdoors.
But hospitality gift adjacent to farewell gift in the back seat, bag packed and double-checked, dog walked and house locked, there I was: on the road.
The stretch of Route 84 between western Connecticut and the New York State border, for those who aren’t familiar with it, is a nightmare. Barricaded in by 18-wheelers, road warriors, and minivans full of early Fourth of July–weekenders, my white-knuckled hands gripped 10 and 2, a half-eaten bologna sandwich in my lap. How did I used to do this every day? At 82 miles per hour, no less?
By the time I passed beyond the exit for the Taconic Parkway, I’d lost all interest in trying to eat while driving. Instead, I focused on the giant Lego pieces being hauled god-knows-where and the thinning number of commuters. The license plates too grew more various: Delaware, New York, Massachusetts, Virginia, all heading away from the sunny eastern coastline. I punched the cruise control at a safer 74 MPH, swapped the Stern Show for some Stevie Wonder, and finally I could just sit back and think.
Of course, I didn’t solve the problems of my little world in that endless stretch of PA highway, neither on the way there nor on the way back. Instead, I found myself behaving like a subterranean cave dweller, peeking out of the darkness to take in the vast landscape I’d been neglecting to explore.
I noted the changes of the terrain and elevation, and observed the growing number of 4×4 trucks as I headed further out toward the landlocked countryside, where soon fireworks stands and gas stations gave way to rolling farmland straight out of a 1980s wall calendar.
When I returned home the next evening, I was disappointed that the grand perspective I was seeking hadn’t come. I grew disheartened at the thought that a road trip, the ultimate brain-clearer, couldn’t pierce the fog of this over-worked freelancer.
As a person who attempts—foolishly and futilely—to be infinitely available to my clients, it looks like it’s going to take more than a roadtrip to avoid what is looming on the horizon: burnout.
So, I’m hoping for some suggestions . . .
What do you do to actively, really, and truly clear your mind?